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If you grew up in the States, there’s a high chance that you’ve heard of the SAT entrance exam. Created by the College Board, a non-profit organization committed to preparing students for college, the SAT is required as an entrance to university to predict one's prospective University success through reading, writing, and mathematics.
Growing up in Canada, I was never required to write the SAT entrance exam. Instead, I wrote a provincial exam—tested on the same curriculum as the SAT with the intention to measure intelligence, but instead of it being required as an entrance to University, it is only a completion requirement for high school graduation and an overall assessment of each province’s education sent to the government.
March 3, 2017, after taking a year off from school to go on a six month mission trip as well as figure out what career path I wanted to pursue, I came home and decided to attend my post secondary in the States. And since the SAT is not offered in Canadian education systems, there are only a few times of the year that the College Board offers it to international students through host schools. So thankfully, the next available exam was May 6—just under two months away to prepare.
Since it had almost been a year since I indulged myself in any means of academic learning, I decided to purchase a SAT prep book. After extensive research of the thousands of available and which would cater to my learning style best, I decided to purchase the Barron’s SAT 28th edition, including six practice tests, a virtual learning CD that corresponded to the book, and 900 pages of exercise questions.
As I sat down to partake in the diagnostic test available in the first few pages of the book, I realized how much curriculum I had forgotten. A week went by and after three practice exams I realized that my score was progressively declining although I thoroughly reviewed the extensive instructions provided with each learning outcome. Now that my doubt of capability and preparedness had increased since purchasing the book, I decided to turn to Google.
As I researched for SAT resources, I came across numerous YouTube videos made by the College Board which I decided to use correspondingly with Khan Academy. I also stumbled across SAT archives regarding the new format of the SAT. Prior to March 2016, the SAT included the consistent reading, writing, and mathematics section, but required an essay. Also, if you answered a question wrong, you would be deducted 0.25 points off per question. Reading this newly given information, I felt naïve for not knowing what I was setting myself up for, but I was more so relieved for the subsided format with a now optional essay and guessing penalty no longer in effect.
May 6, 2017, 6 AM, exam day. I sheepishly dragged myself out of bed and reminisced about the dream I had the night before where my scheduled SAT got cancelled—which I took as a sign that I was nervous. At 7:15 I left the house for the elapsed 20-minute drive, which with each passing minute felt like I was suffocating on my own air flow. At 7:35, I arrived at Prince of Wales Secondary surrounded by a mass of students waiting outside. Overly stimulated by the numerous conversations going on around me, I would not hear myself think—which was good since I was extremely nervous. But as the conversations continued, I observed how many students had already taken the exam before and how this was their redemption plan to achieve a higher score. At 8, the doors opened and we had to line up single file with our admissions ticket and proof of identification. One of the proctors announced that if your ID didn’t match up with your ticket exactly you wouldn’t be able to take the exam and you would directly be sent home. As I looked down at my admissions ticket hoping that I didn’t mess up, I noticed that I didn’t write my full middle name but instead put my middle initial. I immediately panicked and began to think of all the worst case scenarios. It was as if a tiny wide screen television was playing in my mind and I foresaw my future. I saw how two months of studying would have gone to waste, and how my future that depended so greatly on this exam would be postponed as the next available SAT was to be in August. Feet glued to the floor and hands shaking, I approached the proctor and handed over my ticket and ID. I was waiting for him to boot me out, but instead he gave me an "ok" and let me go. I could not believe what had just happened and had a momentary sigh of relief—momentary because the real battle was yet to come.
After navigating through the halls, I found my designated classroom and relaxed in my assigned chair. I prepared on my desk three pencils—one for each section of the exam, eraser, TI-83 Plus graphing calculator, and spare batteries. As I continued to sit in isolated silence with twelve other students around me, I could sense the fatigue and stress embedded into the atmosphere that would be with me for the next four hours. Once every student was accounted for and the proctor had gone over the terms and conditions for the extent of the exam, at 8:55 it was time to start. Although I had prepared and taken many mock exams prior, I realized that this was the one that mattered and I began to freak out. As I opened my exam booklet, faced with the reading portion which I had taken countless of times, I felt confident as I grazed through it until the proctor gave a 15 minute time crunch. This meant I only had 15 minutes left to read two passages and answer questions for it. I quickly scanned both passages and tried to answer the questions as best as I could, but I knew that I definitely did not comprehend them both to my best ability.
After a ten minute pep talk with my self and a realization that what had been done, was done, the writing section came. 44 questions with 35 minutes on the clock, I was confident because throughout all my study sessions, this was the area that I was consistently efficient in. After the elapsed time had run out, another ten minute break was given, which was an indication that there was only one more hour left until I could go home.
At 10:55, the final portion of the exam had arrived. Although there was a non-calculator and calculator section I was glad that I at least had a working calculator so I would not have to do mental math the whole time. As I finished the non-calculator section no problem, the worst happened. My calculator would not turn on. I had absolutely no tolerance for myself and no time to come up with possible explanations as to why it was not working when it did the night before. So instead, I scribbled messily everywhere on the exam booklet writing out problems and wishing my calculator would magically turn on at any second. But more importantly, it was 12, noon, and although I wanted to scream out of rage and frustration, I was finished and bought myself a container of candy to cope with my feelings.
On June 29, I received an email from the College Board announcing that my scores were available. I took a deep breath, paused for what seemed like an eternity, and clicked the direct link. Although I did not do as well as I had expected, I was satisfied but my second response was to compare it to what was considered a "good" score. A little surprised since my final score did not reflect the scores that I received on Khan Academy mock exams, I felt frustrated being there were so many things that could have could have contributed to a lower score, such as my anxiety or faulty calculator. But aside from my own ineffective reasoning, this is my overall take on the SAT exam as a whole.
As a liberal studies major with a elementary subject matter concentration in mathematics, I am passionate about education, but I strongly disagree with the SAT being apart of the American education systems.
First of all, I think that the given amount of time for each section within the exam is preposterous. Personally, I take on average a full minute or more per question. The first 15 to 20 to read over the question, 20 to comprehend what is being asked of me, and 40 to go through the process of elimination within the four given answer options to make an educated guess. But in some cases, you don’t have the luxury of time. I like to tell myself that it is better to finish the exam than to leave answers, but this means that I have to go into each question at a rate that I am not accustomed to, which usually ends tragically with not being able to function to the best of my ability. However, if I took my own sweet time and paid attention to every little detail then I would run the risk of not answering all the questions in time. So either way, I am screwed because one tactic allows me to finish the questions but with a low accuracy rate, and the second a high accuracy rate but with questions left unanswered. The SAT may give you more time than number of questions, but it does not account for the difficulty level of each question and how fast students are able to work through those problems in order to complete the entire section.
In addition, some students just are not good with exams. They crack under pressure, or even the word "exam" makes them shrivel. It is stressful to know that your University career—which University you go to and which—or any scholarships you’re eligible for are determined by this exam. There are many environmental factors that the SAT doesn’t take into account, such as students' individual motives for success, the amount of sleep they had the night before, if they ate breakfast the present morning, and overall mindset going into the exam. Take me for example. I have full confidence that if I wasn’t as anxious—my mind was clearer, had better time management and my calculator was working—that I would have been able to acquire a higher score.
Furthermore, Universities use the SAT as a measurement of how successful students will be at their institution, but how can you compare four years of high level academics to one test? Although extra curricular activities, experiences, and GPA are accounted for when being considered by a University, the SAT plays a considerable percentage in the admissions process. I personally think that a grade point average is a greater representation of a student's academic success, because just like a number on a scale does not reflect your overall health, Universities need to recognize that a number cannot predict a student's full academic capability. But then you might come up with the argument of why don’t you take the SAT more than once? Well, for some like myself who were not able to take the SAT exam during high school, it costs over 100 dollars to take internationally. Sure, just as I said before, empirical evidence and time may be a more accurate representation of your intelligence, but what about those who cannot afford that luxury? 100 dollars times two or three easily adds up, which is not fair to those who were able to take the SAT in high school at no charge, those who can afford to pay for tutors who had perfect scores, or those who can afford to take it multiple times. Americans talk about the right to education and wanting their children to be prosperous, but when you put them into such an unfair education system without recognizing environmental factors such as social class into the matter, where is the justice in that?
Therefore, I propose that if SAT exams were abolished and GPA was weighed as much as SAT exams, the amount of students accepted into school systems would increase because more people would be able to seek an education. If you really wanted your students to succeed in whatever they choose to pursue, it would be fair to allow anyone admission—that is the right to education. And if admission was not so competitive, students would value the content which they are learning more and not just learn to accomplish tasks. This could mean a lower rate of cheating all around too. SAT scores should not be a contest of which schools hold the "smartest" students. An institution is a place for students to obtain an education, not a place where education defines students.
All in all, the SAT may be a standardized test based on intelligence, but its greatest flaw is exactly the opposite. Intelligence can not be determined by exams. Instead, it seems as if it is a competition of who can invest the most time and money to achieve a higher score. The College Board needs to acknowledge that a student's success is their talent, sport activity, leadership, initiative, creativity, communication and drive—not a number.